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24                             THE GAY GENIUS

making sure that he had completely understood them. But the most
ambitious of all would do the really hard thing by copying the whole
of the classics and dynastic histories once over by hand. This was
actually what Su Tungpo did in his student days. Considering the
severe canons of Chinese prose and poetry, and the constant allusions
to names and incidents and metaphors used in the standard histories,
such a method had distinct advantages. For after copying the wliole
book word by word, one began to know that book in a way that no
amount of reading would give him. This labour served Su Tungpo
well in the future, for when pleading with the emperor or drafting an
edict for him, he was never at a loss to quote historic examples, used by
scholars in those times as "cases" are used by lawyers today. Besides,
in copying, he could practice his calligraphy.

Before the invention of printing this copy work was necessary, but
in Su Tungpo's time the commercial printing of books had been in
existence already for about a hundred years. The invention of printing
from movable clay types had been made by a certain Pi Sheng, an
ordinary business-man. The method was to have individual types for
characters made of a special clay which hardened after carving; these
were set on a metal tray prepared with a coating of resin. When the
types had been set in line, the resin was heated and a flat sheet of metal
was used to press upon the assembled type and give it a perfectly even
surface. After printing was done, the resin was heated again; the types
came off easily from the metal tray, to be cleaned and put in place for
the next job. However, the method of printing from wood blocks, each
block representing two pages, continued to be the one in popular use..

While Su Tungpo and his brother Tseyu were storing away this
immense knowledge of literature and the classics, their father had
failed at the examinations and had come back home. The civil service
examinations went by set standards and formulas. Like a Ph.D. thesis,
they required conformity to certain standards, a certain amount of
drudgery, a good'memory of facts, and normal intelligence, Too much
intelligence or originality might be a hindrance, rather than an aid, to
success at the examinations. Many brilliant writers, such as the poet
Chin Kuan, could never pass them. In the case of Su Shim, his weak
point may have been versification; tests in poetry required a passable
virtuosity and aptness of phraseology, and Su Shim was chiefly
interested in ideas. Since, however, an official career was the only road
to honour and success and almost the only profession outside teaching
open to a scholar, the father must have come home despondent.

It was the custom for young people to read aloud while their father
lay on, a couch and listened to their voices reciting the classics, said to
be one of the most pleasant and musical sounds ever heard upon this
earth. In this way the father was able to correct any errors in pro